10 Things No One Tells You About Raising Toddlers

written by Kori Lyons

Okay, parents of soon-to-be nose-pickers. Let’s talk. Toddlers have… a reputation. The Terrible Twos. Threenagers. We envision these ages as the nightmare years that will prepare us for the eventual round two that comes in the form of the teenage years. But despite their infamy, there are some things about our toddlers that we don’t talk about very often. Here are a few.

1.Their songs are catchy and you’ll probably like them… at least at first.

What’s the number one thing toddlers are known for right now? Don’t say it out loud, they’ll hear you: Baby shark, doo doo doo doo doo do. Nearly every toddler parent is groaning just thinking about that damn song. But here’s a secret: there was at least a week when our little was wandering around singing it nonstop where we thought it was adorable. The same with “Let It Go,” “You’re Welcome,” and “Finger Family.” They were all catchy and fun to hear in a tiny voice singing off-key, accompanied by twirling and uncoordinated ballet moves. There’s even a very, very good chance that we recorded their singing along, thinking it wouldn’t happen again, or sang it to them ourselves more than once, or at the very least encouraged it. It’s been weeks now, and we need the scourge to end. But for a while, well, we liked it. Probably a lot.  

2. They are so much more aware than we think.

One of the highlights of my year has been my pregnancy with our second child. Because this birth will be a c-section, we had to start trying to explain it to our daughter early enough for her to understand that Mommy is going to be hurt for a while and unable to do the things we usually do together. Our explanation was minimal and gave her only the few details we thought she could handle, but I am still constantly shocked by the things she says when we discuss it.

“When the doctor cuts your tummy, you’re going to bleed a lot, right?”
“What else is in your tummy?”
“Do they make bandaids that big?”

I really hadn’t thought twice about the places she could take our brief explanation (in fact, it was something I tried to avoid leaving room for) but for a little person who doesn’t know the word “surgery,” she’s very aware of how our bodies work. She’s also very intuitive when it comes to adult emotions and situations, no matter how hard we try and hide them from her, and will adjust her behavior based on her perception of things. If I’m stressed and frustrated, she tends to be also. If I’m sad, she’ll do her best to cheer me up, even when I know she doesn’t know what’s going on.  She picks up on my cues, even when I don’t, and uses them to inform her own opinions, emotions, and actions. Toddlers pick up on everything around them and they make it their whole world.

3. Watching them turn into real people is really, really cool.

Up until now, they’ve been unable to share their thoughts with anything besides a scream or a cry. The day they start crafting sentences about how they feel about your clothes may be emotionally devastating, but it’s also a really cool thing to witness. It’s the beginning of the second phase of realization that this is a person that you made and is much more thorough than that initial “woah, a human!” that you felt at birth.

They start learning to do things on their own and suddenly, you have time for a hot cup of coffee instead of a cold, three-hours-too-late lunch. You can sleep more than five hours. Hell, you can maybe even sleep in a little later if you have the right combination of Paw Patrol and Pop Tarts! Yes, they're still needy. They still demand cuddles and attention and guidance and love. But compared to the infant stage where you can't take your eyes off them for a minute, they're basically grown.

4. They potty train themselves! (No, really!)

I can feel you staring at me. Yes, you, exhausted parent who has read thirteen potty training books, bought stock in Pull-ups, and has a special bathroom mop for all of the accidents you’ve cleaned up. "I HAVE TRIED EVERYTHING AND NOTHING WORKS!!! WHAT DO YOU MEAN THEY POTTY TRAIN THEMSELVES????"

Don't get me wrong. I'm not discounting the work you've put in. They're getting nowhere without your struggles. Getting the basics down isn't happening without you, and they’ll need all of the help they can get.

But one day, they will wake up and decide they no longer want to pee on themselves. They want to do an activity that requires them to be potty trained. They don't want to pee in their beds at night. And that will be the end of the fight.

There may still be accidents; but all of that potty frustration that makes you want to rip out both your hair and theirs will vanish. When this happens will vary with developmental progress, medical conditions, and toddler-determined necessity. But one day, they'll just get it, and the nightmare will end.

5. Playtime is how they learn, and it’s okay if you aren't always leading it.

So you're not a Pinterest parent and you don't plan educational activities every five minutes. Or maybe you do, but you don't feel like the things you pick out are teaching them enough. Or maybe you're just too tired when you get home to play at all some nights. Well, I have good news! Playing on their own is good for them! Preschools call it "free play" and it’s a pretty essential part of their education. Making a mess, playing with their toys, pretending to read to themselves, these are all things that help them learn about the world around them, figure out the rules, develop their confidence, and learn to be independent. Of course it's better join in when you can, but don't feel bad when they're on their own. They're learning how to exist in the world and playtime is the only place where they have full license to discover their place in it.

6. They know exactly what you don’t need, and they're going to give it to you.

This is an absolutely amazing skill that it seems like all toddlers have. They can pick up on the most obscure thing that could complicate everything and make sure it happens. If you're on bed rest and need them in school, they're getting RSV. If you need some alone time with your partner, they're snuggling up to your side for the night. If you're three days to payday with only ramen in the cabinets, they're throwing their vegetables on the floor. They know exactly what will make your life difficult and then they will do that thing. You cannot prepare. You cannot protect. You can only accept.

7. They have their own tastes and preferences.

As parents, we expect our kids to like the things we like. It's a natural assumption that they would, given that they have relied on us for a basic foundation of the world since forever. So when my daughter liked onions, my absolute do-not-come-near-me food, I was shocked. Her taste in music is different than mine. She likes TV shows I can't stand and she makes fun of me for mine. She is actually less picky than I am about food (as long as it doesn’t include green beans, one of my all-time favorites, of course). And while this does make sense, given that she's an entire person separate from me, it still doesn’t seem like she should be. She has been at my side since the only things she liked were milk and gas drops. She's been an extension of my self for three years. Separating her feelings from my own is ...weird.

8. They’re definitely doing gross things. In public. Loudly.

They have no shame. Why would they? They don't know the rules. It's easy for non-parents or parents of infants to say "I would never let my kid do ____," but we all know by now that those rules go out the window as soon as they develop any semblance of bodily autonomy. Which means that now your child is picking their nose, picking their wedgies, farting, burping, and discussing their genitalia in the middle of the supermarket. And you are powerless to stop it. Keep that hand sanitizer close.

9. They are complicated because they’re creative.

Toddlers get upset for no reason. And when they're old enough to give you a reason, those reasons often make no sense. We've all seen the #reasonsmykidiscrying. Some of those are the most ridiculous, nonsensical things you can think of.

But we still have to head off the tantrums about them. And we can’t do that with adult logic, because they aren’t working within the parameters of adult logic. This is toddler world and their logic is the boss. This means we have to reason with imaginary friends, make up rules for countries that don’t exist, and try and understand a mind where nothing follows from anything else.

10. Group activities are the best thing you can ask for.

Seriously, the best. I don’t mind coming up with activities for her. I mean, it’s fun! I love doing crafts and baking new things and living our best lives together. But sometimes, I don’t want to be in charge. And sometimes, I want her to burn some energy off in a setting where I’m not the only person to entertain her. And I really want her to make friends.

So we do play dates, and toddler time, and dance class, and soccer and we do things with people who also don’t want to plan things, but also want to have “well-rounded” children with lots of friends. And she has a blast, because it’s something new and exciting, and I look like a great mom for bringing her. But honestly? This is my downtime, when I don’t have to be “on” every single second. And it’s amazing.

Yeah, toddlers are a lot. They’re exhausting, frustrating, unstoppable forces. But their defiance, their strangeness, and their surprises teach us in a profound way what it means that everyone is different and their autonomy deserves our respect.